Sunday, March 22, 2015

YALSA 2015 Hub Reading Challenge, Update #3

It was another week for rereads, mostly because these books are already in my personal library, so they were easy to get.  After rereading I Hunt Killers Last week, I had to read the sequel, Game, even though it's not on this year's list. And of course, it ends on an unbearable cliffhanger, so I'll be reading book three as soon as I can get my hands on it!

Maus: A Survivor's Tale by Art Spiegelman

Art Spiegelman interviewed his father, Vladek, a Holocaust survivor.  Vladek's story is told in comic book format, with the Jews as mice and the Nazis as cats.  

The graphic novel approach brings a new perspective to this moving memoir.  I especially liked the way that Vladek's Holocaust memories were interwoven with the present relationship between the father and son.  Intertwined with the horrifying and vivid personal account of Vladek's experiences during the Holocaust, we also see the troubled relationship between a father and his son as they both deal with the long-term effects of this unforgettable human tragedy.


Tears of a Tiger by Sharon Draper

Hazelwood High, book one.

Andy, a high school basketball star, struggles with his guilt after he got into an accident while drinking and driving.  His friend, Rob, was trapped in the car and died when the gas tank exploded.  

Strong dialogue and realistic characters make this series a home-run for teen readers.  And the non-stop drama will keep the pages turning.

Forged by Fire by Sharon Draper

Hazelwood High, book two.

Gerald's story is like a bad soap opera:  We frist meet Gerald, a battered and neglected child, when he is severely burned in a fire after being left home alone by his addict mother, Monique.  He finds a safe and loving home with his Aunt Queen.  When he is nine, his mother and her abusive new husband take him back into their home.  The only bright spot for Gerald is Angel, his four-year-old half sister.  Gerald finds out that Angel is being sexually abused by her father.  Monique is unwilling or unable to protect her children and Gerald resolves to protect Angel and himself.

Draper tries to cram a bit too much drama into this slim volume.  Poor Gerald; it's one tragedy after another for him.

Darkness before Dawn by Sharon Draper

Hazelwood High, book three.

Keisha, getting ready to give a speech at graduation, reflects on the trials and triumphs of her senior year.  She and her classmates have seen and experienced a lot--death, abuse, divorce, homelessness, rape, abandonment, anorexia, and love.  Whew!  No kidding, it's all in there!

The drama is a bit over the top, but teens who enjoy page-turners will not be able to put this one down.  Reading the first two books will make this one richer, but it can also stand on its own.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Hunger Games, book two.

Katniss' act of rebellion during the Hunger Games lights a spark that spreads though Panem and makes her the face of the revolution as the Districts look for ways (both large and small) to defy the Capitol.  Katniss and Peeta travel through Panem on their mandatory victory tour, and then, before they even have a chance to settle into the semi-normal lives of Hunger Games survivors, President Snow takes his revenge.  I gasped out loud when the rules of the 75th Hunger Games (the Quarter Quell) were announced.

I found this book even more brutal than the first, perhaps because Katniss is now a familiar character and I feel her pain more than ever.  President Snow is absolutely ruthless in his attempt to punish Katniss, and has a sadist's knack for twisting the knife just when it will hurt the most.  

Like Hunger Games, Catching Fire will keep readers riveted from the very first page.  Excellent and HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. 

Not on the YALSA list, but had to read it:

Game by Barry Lyga

Jasper Dent trilogy, #2.

When a serial killer known as the Dog-Hat Killer begins terrorizing New York City, an officer from the NYPD comes to Lobo's Nod to ask for Jazz's help with the case.  Jazz, still struggling not to give in to his darker impulses, joins the hunt for this new killer, all the while looking over his shoulder for Dear Old Dad, who is newly escaped from prison and sure to be in touch--sooner or later.

I read most of this 500-ish page book in one sitting. It was taut, suspenseful, and just very well done. The body count is high and the murders are gory (penectomies and enucleations abound). Connie and Howie are more fully developed in this one and have bigger parts to play as well. Unfortunately, this also ups their peril. 

This book ends on a HUGE cliffhanger, with several lives hanging in the balance, so have the third one (Blood of my Blood) queued up and ready to go.

Monday, March 16, 2015

YALSA 2015 Hub Reading Challenge, Update #2

I've noticed lots of repeats on the challenge list this year. While I don't mind rereading at all, for a few of these titles, once is definitely enough! Since I do the challenge to discover new stuff, I don't want to spend too much time rereading, especially books I didn't love the first time.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I love John Green's writing and I marked lots of great lines as I read that I intended to use in my review. In the end, though, this simple and repeated exchange between Hazel and Augustus says it all. 



They meet at a cancer support group--Hazel is terminal, but her tumors are being kept at bay for the foreseeable future and Augustus is in remission, but missing a leg. As our protagonists fall in love, awkwardly and sweetly, they know that their "forever" will be brief. After all, "[s]ome infinities are bigger than other infinities."

What I loved most about this beautiful, humorous, and heartbreaking story is how real the love story and the friendships feel. Hazel and Augustus fear that their lives will be meaningless, that they will be forgotten when they die. What each finds in the other is a glimpse of what their lives have meant to another. Just like in our real, everyday lives, these ordinary characters find the extraordinary in each other. And that's what love is.




**Reread for the 2015 YALSA Challenge. Still love it.

Glory O'Brien's History of the Future by A.S. King

Glory O'Brien is deeply damaged. Her mother committed suicide by sticking her head in the oven when Glory was just a little girl. She has spent her life eating microwave meals because her dad refuses to use the stove. They love each other, but are mired in the past and unable to move on with their lives. Glory is an outsider. Her only friend, Ellie, lives on a hippie commune (or is it actually a cult?). They seem to be friends out of convenience and habit, rather than because they have anything in common. Glory is Ellie's only link to the outside world. Glory doesn't really know why she is still friends with Ellie. One night, the girls decide to mix the remains of a petrified bat into some warm beer and drink it. This is where things get STRANGE.

The girls start seeing visions--Ellie sees personal details about people's relationships when she meets their eyes and Glory sees flashes of both past and future. Glory records her visions in the hopes that her notes might help to avert the terrifying future to come--a future in which an endless civil war rages, and where women are truly second-class citizens, banned from the workplace and doomed to poverty and abuse. 

I enjoyed the feminist themes, though at times they did feel a bit heavy-handed. While I get that Glory's visions are fragmented, I had a hard time putting all of the fragments together into a coherent whole. My favorite part of the book was Glory's relationship with her father and her struggle to come to terms with her mother's death. I wanted to love this book, but it didn't quite come together for me. Maybe magical realism just isn't my cup of tea. 

Half Bad by Sally Green

Book one in the Half Bad trilogy.

Nathan lives in an alternate-reality England where witches are part of the daily reality. There is a brutal war between the white (good) witches and the black (evil) witches. Nathan is a half code--his mother was a white witch and his father a notorious black witch. 

For a book this long, I was hoping for more world-building. I mean, these witches are at war with each other, but there really isn't a whole lot of distinction made between the two factions and the reason behind the war is never explained. The white witches are supposed to be the good guys, but almost none of them actually demonstrate any goodness through their actions. I liked that many of the characters were multi-faceted; having my initial impressions of certain characters change as the story progressed was a pleasant surprise. 

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

I loved, loved, loved this book. It grabbed me by the throat right away. It was oh-so-believably creepy, with well-drawn characters whose motivations were complex and interesting. I can see mature teen readers gobbling this one up.

Jazz is a teenaged boy whose father, Billy Dent, is a famous and prolific serial killer. Even though Billy is in prison, and will be until he dies, he is a pervasive presence in Jazz's life. As hard as he tries, Jazz is unable to silence his dad's voice, constantly repeating the lessons of how to be a successful killer. 

When dead bodies start piling up in Jazz's small town, he is determined to catch the killer. Thanks to his dear old dad's lessons, Jazz can slip right into the mind of the killer, much to his dismay. The cops, especially the one who put Billy Dent behind bars, aren't too keen on Jazz's input. 

Jazz is such a realistic character, with all of the normal teenaged angst, but with the added bonus of trying to stop himself from becoming the man his father has trained him to be. Jazz exhibits many sociopathic tendencies, but he is most human when he's with his wise-cracking best friend, Howie, and his take-no-shit girlfriend, Connie. Howie's hilarious comments provide plenty of comic relief, even in the midst of some pretty gory gruesomeness. Connie keeps Jazz grounded and calls him out when he starts wallowing in self-doubt. There are some well-meaning adults who try to do what's best for Jazz and he respects them, even though he doesn't agree with them. And then there's his crazy grandmother. Whoa. She's hilarious and horrifying all in one racist, wrinkly, gun-waving package. 

I dare you to read this one after dark.

**Reread for the 2015 YALSA Challenge.  I'll be reading the sequel (Game) next, even though it's not part of this year's challenge.

My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf

Most of us can relate to the experience of knowing a "weird" kid in high school, that kid who looked or acted differently from other kids and just didn't fit in.  That kid who we lost touch with after high school and who never really crossed our minds again. Backderf tells the story of his acquaintance (I hesitate to call it a friendship, despite the book's title) with Jeffrey Dahmer in high school. As a clueless kid, Derf didn't take the warning signs all that seriously, even when he noticed them. The adults in Jeffrey's life didn't either. 

This memoir tells about Jeffrey Dahmer's life leading up to his first murder, and isn't especially gruesome, graphic, or illuminating.  I was intrigued by the book's premise, but in the end, it wasn't my cup of tea. 

**Reread for the 2015 YALSA Challenge. Still not my cup of tea. I have to admit, I skimmed.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

YALSA 2015 Hub Reading Challenge, Update #1

Even knowing that the YALSA Hub Reading Challenge was coming up, I still managed to get a late start with most of the list. Luckily, I've already read the Morris and Nonfiction selections, so I should be able to catch up. I'm only reviewing one book this week. This book is what set me so far behind! Even though there were many elements that I SHOULD have connected with, I simply couldn't get into it. I checked it out from the library in January and forced myself to finish it today. I'm not sure why it was such a difficult read for me, possibly because I have very little background knowledge about the information presented. Here's my review.  

Ida M. Tarbel: The Woman Who Challenged Big Business--and Won! by Emily Arnold McCully

Ida Tarbell was a successful investigative journalist at a time when most women did not work outside the home. Despite the fact that she herself was not a "typical" woman of the day, she did not support the right of women to vote. Her investigative work helped to shine a light on the dirty business tactics of John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil.

While this book is well-researched and written, it just never really grabbed me. I think it's because I'm not all that interested in this particular period in history. That said, McCully's book would be an excellent resource for students looking for quality research about the social and political landscape of the early 1900's.